CEDAR RAPIDS — Civility is not a magic bullet in an uncivil society.
But civility — treating others with respect and kindness — “gives us a chance to get to an outcome everyone can live with,” Jeff Kluever told about 40 people who participated in a civil discourse workshop Thursday evening.
“Civility is a continuum” rather than a singular point, he said.
Whether it’s dealing with a neighbor whose lawn care doesn’t meet you standards or a president who sets your teeth on edge, civility “is about finding a way to treat each other.”
The Revive Civility Iowa session was one in a series of community conversations by the National Institute of Civil Discourse and Robert D. and Billie Ray Center at Drake University.
The goal was to “give people the tools they need and the confidence to use them” to solve community issues, said Kluever, assistant director of the Ray Center.
“We’re not going to solve a community issue tonight,” Kluever told the group, which had identified poverty, rude neighbors and partisan politics as community challenges. “If it was that simple, it would have been done.”
But employing civil strategies of connecting and building relationships, listening and learning, teaching and communicating “gives you the best opportunity to make change. It doesn’t guarantee, but invites it,” Kluever said.
When applied to community issues he said, it’s important that each party understands what the other party wants.
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“It’s not about getting 100 percent, but each getting 85 percent,” he said. To get there it’s important to find common ground — the desire for a safe community, for example.
Knowing how to be civil, isn’t enough, Kluever concluded. If you want civility, you have to practice it.
To that end, he challenged participants to act on one of the community issues they identified at the beginning of the workshop.
“I came thinking there might be something I can take back,” said Ellen McVey, who was visiting from Michigan and attended with her sister, Marian Wetjen of Cedar Rapids. “I think I could take the next step.”
For Scott Meador, pastor at Lovely Lane United Methodist Church, the take-away was Kluever’s lesson to seek to understand others and to be understood.
“I guess I knew that, but to hear it here tonight was excellent,” he said that the strategies seemed practical and gave him additional tools for dealing with issues.
“We need to understand where the other party is coming from,” he said.
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